Politics & Policy

The Corner

Here’s How the Donald Trump Campaign and Trump’s Lackeys Smeared Michelle Fields

Last Tuesday an incident occurred that could have — should have — been dealt with quickly and easily with an apology. As I’ve covered extensively in previous posts, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, allegedly grabbed (now-former) Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and yanked her back from the candidate when she tried to ask him a question about affirmative action. To review, here is the allegation in Fields’s words (all italics are mine):

Trump acknowledged the question, but before he could answer I was jolted backwards. Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.

Washington Post reporter Ben Terris corroborated Fields’s account, writing:

As security parted the masses to give him passage out of the chandelier-lit ballroom, Michelle Fields, a young reporter for Trump-friendly Breitbart News, pressed forward to ask the GOP front-runner a question. I watched as a man with short-cropped hair and a suit grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way. He was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 41-year-old campaign manager. Fields stumbled.

Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm.

Note that neither Fields nor Terris said that Fields fell. She was “yanked” hard enough to receive bruises, and she tweeted an image of those bruises the next day. Lewandowski’s behavior was clearly inappropriate. Absent compelling need, he simply should not put his hands on a reporter and yank her away from his candidate. Fields rightly expected an apology, and — as she told Megyn Kelly — she not only thought an apology was being arranged, she was happy to “move on.”

But the Trump campaign would rather lie and smear than apologize, so instead of ending the matter through a gracious statement, it responded with falsehoods and character assassination. Lewandowski tweeted this:

Then, not content with his blanket denial and personal insult, he went after Fields’s career:

The Trump campaign itself doubled down, issuing an obviously false statement claiming that “no other outlet or reporter witnessed or questioned anything that transpired that evening” when Terris was already on the record supporting Fields. Donald Trump himself falsely declared, “Everybody said nothing happened. Perhaps she made the story up.” 

Then, video evidence emerged, with at least one video showing Lewandowski reaching for Fields. Most of the images were blurry and fast, but – finally — one video showed the incident with greater clarity. Here it is:

In the video, you see Lewandowski pass in front her. Fields reacts, dips down slightly, and turns toward him. At the end of the clip, you can see his arm releasing her. No, she doesn’t fall. But she never claimed that she did. In fact, the video corroborates that she was grabbed, and her picture of the bruises corroborates that he grabbed her hard enough to hurt her. It certainly wasn’t an extreme act of violence, but it was worth apologizing for, and that is all Fields says she wanted

But how did Trump-world react to this video? As somehow debunking Fields, using a selective edit of her claims to omit the fact that both Fields and Terris clearly stated that she didn’t fall. Fields says she was able to “maintain my balance,” while Terris merely says she “stumbled.” 

So, this is what life is like for Trump and his fanatics. Lies and smears are acceptable so long as they can “debunk” a claim that she never made. 

Let’s keep score: Fields and Terris claim that Lewandowski grabbed her hard enough to make her stumble and to cause bruises. In support of this assertion, we have eyewitness testimony, an audio recording, video recordings, and pictures of the bruises on her arm. To resolve this matter, Fields simply wanted an apology. Instead, Lewandowski tweeted that she was “delusional,” claimed he “never touched” her (a conclusion contradicted by overwhelming evidence) and smeared her professional record. The campaign issued its own false statement, as did Trump himself. 

Compounding the shame, Trump lackeys in blogs, comment boards, and Breitbart launched their own war against Fields, with one blogger going so far as to declare — in the face of all the evidence — that “No contact was made. She didn’t even flinch.” Breitbart actually wrote an article that started:

New video of Donald Trump’s press conference Tuesday evening shows that the Washington Post’s account of an altercation involving Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields could not possibly have happened as Ben Terris reported.

Breitbart is now melting down. On Friday, its public relations executive, Kurt Bardella resigned. Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro resigned Sunday night, Fields followed suit, and there is evidence of considerable internal dissent over its handling of the incident. Then, in a move that only Trump could love, Breitbart briefly posted — then took down — a piece mocking Shapiro, exposing his personal information to the public, and revealing his father’s pseudonym. Breitbart’s Joel Pollak issued a statement saying that the piece “was published as a result of a misunderstanding” and apologized. Yet how believable is it that Breitbart would go to the trouble of writing, sourcing, and creating graphics for a hit piece on Shapiro — hitting him on a matter of extreme sensitivity to the organization — only to publish as a result of a “misunderstanding?”

Trump has no integrity, and those who defend him long enough lose theirs as well. I would argue that an old saying applies – that if you lie down with dogs, you come away with fleas — but in this case it’s worse. Lie down with dogs. Become a dog. Breitbart barks for Trump.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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